A tale of four bike lights

I got to borrow a Solidlights LED bike light in return for writing a bit about it. This is what I wrote for the bike mailing list at work. I wrote it in March 2005, and have updated a few of the links now (in November). (A recent bikecurrent post pointed at a similar but more extensive review (I did try taking some comparative photos, but they didn't work very well).)

Much of this is now out of date. I've added a few comments, Jan 2011

Subject: [bike] A tale of four bike lights
> Re: [bike] Any one else want to borrow the SolidLights LED light set ?
> 1 week loan - you might have to write a few words as a review.

I used the SolidLights together with three other lights for comparison.
(Not all at once, they wouldn't all fit on my handlebars together.)
All this considers the lights solely from a commuting viewpoint.

1) Cateye HL-EL300
A fairly common non-Luxeon LED headlight, currently £32.99 at Wiggle.

Unlike most front LED lights, it has British Standard 6102/3 approval.

It lasts for hours and hours on a set of four NiMH AA cells.
(I tried leaving it turned on on my desk, and eight hours later
it was a little bit dimmer but still usable.)

This is perfectly usable on its own in town as a light to be seen by.
The five LED head is fairly bulky, but fits in at least some pockets,
and the bulk possibly helps with how visible it is to other users.

Out of town it's ok on a moonlit night, or on a summer evening when
the sun only just set and there is still a glow on the horizon, or
within a few miles of streetlights with orange glow reflecting off
the bottom low clouds. But on a cloudy winter evening under overhanging
trees, its very small bright spot and very little light outside that
are rather limiting.

Comparable products and possible improvements:
There's now the EL500, with a 1W Luxeon. A bit more expensive, a bit
more compact, no BS approval, and reviews vary on whether it's much of
an improvement over the 300 or not.

I later bought an HL-EL530. It wasn't a huge improvement on the 300, and it wasn't as robust. I still have the 300, but the 530 broke (and its switch was always a bit dodgy). I also have a Trelock 735, which appears to be the same as a Trelock 730 but at a reduced price exclusively for Decathalon.

2) Lumotec
A 3W dynamo light (I use a battery rear light so swapped the 2.4W
bulb it comes with, designed for use with a 0.6W rear bulb in series).
£14.50 from http://www.kinetics.org.uk/html/b_m_front_lights.shtml

My bicycle came with a cheap dynamo lighting set, wired together with
some damp cotton. I fitted battery lights at the time, but last year I
did eventually get round to getting the front light working off the
dynamo. I bought a Lumotec to replace the by then broken front light
it came with, and a Zinkens Dynashoe to mount it on the V-brake stud,
so it only has a very short wire directly to the front light, but am
still using the original bottle dynamo, exact model unknown.
(Battery powered LED rear lights last for months, so I decided the
simplicity and extra front light was worth more than a dynamo powered
rear light.)

It produces a larger bright spot than the EL-300, but a yellower one.
It also spreads more light around generally than the EL-300 (some
of it with a slightly distracting pattern). Together these make it
much more usable on its own.

There's no limit on how long a battery charge lights of course, but
it does go out when you stop. And apparently dynamo lights are
rarely stolen, so being able to fit it into a pocket or not is
irrelevent. (If you want a removeable dynamo light, there is a version
of the Dynashoe than includes a light bracket so light and dynamo
come off relatively easily together. Only left handed though:

On the downside it takes a bit of work to power it, and there is
a constant thrum that can get annoying, even after being fairly
careful about aligning the dynamo.

There are versions of the Lumotec that include LED standlights that
stay on when stopped, or you can simply use something like the EL300
or the smaller EL200 as a backup light. That also gives you something
to see by that you can take off the bike if you have to change a bulb
in the dynamo light, or fix a flat tyre. You can also align the EL300
to give you a slightly larger bright central spot.

One foggy evening I found the lower mounting position of the light
helped compared with the SolidLight or halogen, both of which were
handlebar mounted. You could put a battery light on a fork mount
if you wanted though, with a bit of work.

Comparable products and possible improvements:
The Schmidt E-6 headlight supposedly has a tighter beam pattern
(the BiSy it is based on is out of production).

Halogen dynamo lights are basically obsolete. (The Kinetics link no longer lists them, for example.)

The hub I'm now using (see below) came with a D'Lumotec LED light, and later upgraded to an IQ Cyo. I did, briefly, run both the D'Lumotec and Lumotec, but the Lumotec didn't add much. Photo.

I could get a better bottle dynamo (£38 for a B+M 6 for example,
or £110 for the more efficient S6 (though only 90 Euros from

Or I could get a hub dynamo. I haven't seen prices for the latest
Shimano ones yet, but I expect it to be less than the SON for something
very nearly as efficient.

I bought a Shimano HB-NX22 in Drake's closing down sale. Photo. I'm tempted to upgrade http://www.rosebikes.co.uk/products/tech/lighting/dynamos/hub-dynamos/

New Shimano:

[11/05 available here, but apparently it's not that much improved over the 70.
(I'd link to the parent of that, but I guess it was No-Archive.)]

Existing Shimano:


3) The SolidLights http://www.solidlights.co.uk/products/1103.php

Much larger central spot than the EL300, and equally white, and also
a useful amount of even light in a much wider area, with a fairly smooth
transition out of the bright spot. (A co-worker walking across the car
park towards them assessed it and the EL300 as equally bright when
on-axis, but the SolidLight certainly looks brighter pointed at the
ground. Maybe it's just the wider spot. Turning both on together, it
is possible to offset the EL300 to add a small but useful amount
to the size of the central spot, as it was with the Lumotec. It doesn't
make a huge difference, but you might want a BS approved light on too

Doesn't last as long as the EL300 on a charge (at least not on full
power), but did last the whole of my commute (about an hour).

The separate light body and battery pack might have some advantages,
but are a slight fiddle when taking the light on and off the bike.

The major downside is obviously the cost. Maybe if we get that IR176
scheme set up.....

Comparable products and possible improvements:
The USE Exposure lights aren't as well regulated, but do come as
a single unit - but apparently it doesn't have a quick release
mount. (Like the Solidlights, the target market is more competitive
off-road use than commuters.)

4) Specialized Solo Proview.

This is a nominal 10W halogen MR-11 bulb, run off five D-cell NiCds
(or alkalines, if you enjoy throwing money away - it was actually
sold for use with alkalines).

I bought it years ago heavily reduced as end of line stock (and Howes
had run out when I went back the next day to get a second one), with
surplus NiCds from Bull Electrical and an existing charger, so it was
very much cheaper than the SolidLights, but possibly not an entirely
fair comparison.

Fully charged, it's well over 10W, when it's low battery warning light
light goes on it's about 6W, and much dimmer than the SolidLights
(incandescent bulbs, unlike LEDs, get less efficient when run at
lower powers).
But when it's fully charged, it puts out a lot more light than
the SolidLight, over a much wider area (so most of it wasted for
on-road use) - enough that you can't tell whether the SolidLight
is turned on at the same time or not.

The first time I tried it after a long period of disuse it didn't
last the full hour, but a few charge/recharge cycles fixed that,
though the NiCds probably aren't the full 4Ah capacity they claimed
when new.

It's a lot heavier than the SolidLights, but neither I nor my bike
are really lightweight, and with a change of clothes and lunch in
the pannier, and a full water bottle, the extra weight isn't that

Comparable products and possible improvements:

I could get some new NiMH cells, available in up to 9Ah in D.
I could make up a 6-cell holder and add a Willie Hunt LVR.
[11/05 - http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~willie/lvr.html#anchor0009
now says "I have no time to fill small orders anymore."]

Something like the Cateye RC-220 is nearly as cheap, but has a
lead-acid battery that is even heavier per unit energy stored.
A Lumicycle system would be lighter than mine, but heavier
than the SolidLights, but also cheaper than the SolidLights.

I haven't used the Specialized for some time. Partly this is because I haven't been cycling the long commute as much, partly because the Cyo on its own is good enough that charging the Specialized to add to it isn't worth the hassle.


For me, as a commuter, I think the extra cost of the battery
SolidLights isn't worth the weight saving from the extra
efficiency compared to the lights I already have, or probably
even if I was comparing with buying new lights from scratch.

Competitive off-road use is obviously a whole different thing,
but it's not my thing, nor are long night Audax/randon type rides.

What could well be more useful would be a dynamo powered
SolidLight. That would eliminate the expensive lithium-ion
battery and charger (though possibly making the regulation
electronics more expensive). (Dynamo hubs aren't cheap, but
if the dynamo SolidLight is considered as competing against
other dynamo lights, that part of the cost is the same.)

With a dynamo system you can't have more light just by using
a more powerful bulb, your power is limited and more light has
to come from more efficiency - and the 3W battery SolidLight
was definitely nicer than my 3W dynamo light.

And what's this I see in my inbox? SolidLights announcing
the 1203D hub-dynamo-powered light.
"The 1203D is designed to be powered from high quality hub dynamos such
as the Schmidt and Shimano models (compatibility with other dynamos will
be announced in the future). It takes advantage of the characteristics
of those dynamos to power a pair of 3W LEDs, automatically adjusting
their brightness to match the road speed. It also includes a flashing
mode and a standlight to give 5 minutes or so of light after you've stopped."
See http://www.solidlights.co.uk/products/1203d.php, but the 1203d is discontinued, and so is the XB2 upgrade to newer more efficient LEDs. The latter was, I believe only ever offered as an upgrade to existing 1203d owners.

I assume that the clever electronics that were Solidlights advantage can't compete with B+M's latest optics.